FishDreamer scribbles: It ain't over yet.

Monday, 12 July 2004

Adaptive Cooking

I am an inventive cook. I think maybe I would do okay in times of shortage, because I have some small idea of how to substitute ingredients, and how to adapt recipes to fit what I have on hand. I could also be called a sloppy cook, because I almost never follow a recipe exactly. For one thing, I never measure spices. Not even for baking, although I do measure ingredients like yeast and salt. Usually.

What prompted this revelation is that my dad came back to town this evening, and I decided to make beef curry for him. I've made it for him before, and also for my niece and then just when it was the two of us. I don't make it a lot, but I should because Mr D and I both really like it.

I have two Indian cookbooks, and a bunch of other ones with Indian recipes in them. The one I use the most is Jennifer Brennans' Curries and Bugles, which also has great stories of growing up in India during the Raj. The first real curry I ever made comes from that book, it's called Bhuna Chicken, and even then I adapted the recipe. It calls for fresh tomatoes, to which Mr D is allergic, so I left them out. I can't remember if that one also calls for dessicated coconut, but if it did I didn't use it. It starts with a curry paste based on cilantro, garlic, onions, and ginger; and the first time I made it was to use up the cilantro I'd bought for chili.

Tonight's recipe was somewhat vaguely based on a lamb dish in that book. I used beef, since I don't like lamb. I left out the chilis, because I didn't have any plus my dad does not care for hot food (although he does love my curry). I will hereby write up the recipe for you, because seriously this stuff was good. It's sweet, not particularly hot. I read a bunch of recipes for various curries and I sort of cobbled this together based on my limited experience in curry-making and what I had in the house. I take short cuts, I don't have a food processor, and I work all day so I don't like to spend four hours in the kitchen making dinner.

I don't always make the best food, but every time I cook I learn something. The thing I did here is add lime juice, which really made the dish somehow. It was good before that, but it was great after.

With no further ado, FishDreamer's Sweet Beef Curry.

Two tablespoons butter
One to two pounds beef steak, cut into rough chunks (1 to 2 inch cubes, sold here as stew meat; probaby pork or lamb would do well too)
One onion, peeled and roughly chopped (I used a Walla Walla sweet)
Five or six toes of garlic, minced
One 16-oz can plain tomato sauce
A tablespoon (or slightly more) garam masala powder
One-half teaspoon ground coriander
One-half teaspoon ground cumin
One teaspoon ground turmeric
One teaspoon salt
Two tablespoons brown sugar, lightly packed
Ground black pepper to taste
Two tablespoons or so dried shredded coconut (mine was sweetened, although it's not supposed to be)
One head of cauliflower, cut into chunks
Two to three teaspoons Rose's Lime Juice (or maybe the juice of a lime, which I would have used had I had one)

Melt the butter in a large, deep pan, and brown the meat in the butter. When it's cooked on all sides (although not completely browned), add the onion and garlic and saute until limp. Add the tomato sauce and all the spices (through pepper) and stir thoroughly. Lower the heat, cover, and cook about twenty minutes (to get the meat softer). Add coconut and stir, and then throw in the cauliflower and stir to coat. Cover and cook another fifteen to twenty minutes, until the cauliflower is soft, stirring occasionally. Dribble in the lime juice, stir, and serve over rice.

If anyone tries this, I would love to hear what you think. I know I like it, so don't feel like you need to spare my feelings or anything. Please also let me know if I left any of the steps out, because sometimes I do that. I just love to cook, and I love to look in the cupboards and invent something. It takes practice, and I read cookbooks regularly for ideas and inspiration. And given how many things there are that one or the other of us won't eat, doesn't like, or is allergic to, I generally need to be fairly creative in the kitchen. We can only have so much spaghetti before its charms pall.

In other news, Dad is here now and Mom flies in tonight. They'll be around a couple of days and then they're off to Vancouver Island somewhere for Mom's conference. And then we're off to New Jersey for some time on the shore. I can't wait! I have these visions of what Atlantic City was like when I was young. I'm bringing books and running shoes and writing materials. A week of no responsibility, no phone no gaming, and a barbecue with the Philadelphia-based Ufies after. Iambe & Engel are having us over, which should be lovely. I'm trying to figure out the logistics of a Boston day trip as well. Too many great people I want to see on the East Coast, and this is completely without visiting any of my family. Who I hope don't hear I was there.

I'm for reading and bed. Mr D bought me a new pillow, to which I'm still trying to adapt. It's much different from anything I've ever had before. Can you believe I got to be 38 without ever having bought myself a pillow before? I'm still kind of flabbergasted about that. They're not that expensive, unless you go for hypoallergenic down (which would be lovely, but we didn't have $130 each to spend on pillows). My biggest problem is that the old pillow cases are too small. Need to do something about that, I can't use flannel all summer!

Have a lovely week.

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